THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, MLive.com and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Wednesday
Nov192014

The 10-year anniversary of 'Malice at the Palace'

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Today is Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. That makes it the 10th anniversary of "Malice at the Palace," the brawl between the Pistons and Pacers that spilled into the stands and became one of the infamous incidents of its kind in NBA (and professional sports) history.

The Pistons actually do have a home game tonight, hosting the Phoenix Suns. There's a good chance the occasion gets mentioned during the radio or TV broadcasts. As you might expect, 10th anniversary retrospectives are being written. Though it should be noted that nothing similar has happened in the NBA since, and the sport seems much less physical than it used to be. 

(I'll admit I don't watch as much NBA as I once did, however, so if anyone wants to take issue with that last sentence, please point out my error.) 

Rather than try and piece together my memories of watching that Pistons-Pacers game 10 years ago, I figured I would just re-post what I wrote about it as a fledgling blogger at the time. I had started a blog just one month earlier while studying at the University of Iowa and was home for Thanksgiving break. We got the whole week off at Iowa and “Malice at the Palace” occurred on the Friday I arrived back in Michigan. I was watching alone while my parents were sleeping and wasn’t sure if what I was watching was really happening, because it was total chaos.

I cringe at the writing now, of course. But I was young(er), looking for an outlet besides the creative writing and longform nonfiction I was writing mostly for my friends with faint hopes of reaching a larger audience. Just remember that and take pity if you actually take the time to read this. Here it is, after the jump.

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Panic in Detroit | Nov. 20, 2004

I thought it would be just a quiet night back home in Michigan. The parents went to bed, and I sank into my dad’s armchair to watch the end of the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game on ESPN. And that’s when everything went crazy on TV.

Professional basketball players running into the stands (which were virtually deserted because Detroit was getting their asses kicked) and punching fans. Beers getting tossed at the players from all directions. Fights breaking out on the court and in the courtside seats. More players punching fans (who have made their way onto the court), coaches holding their players back, players holding their teammates back, fans tangled up with each other while throwing punches, slaps, and elbows.

It was a near-riot situation at the Palace of Auburn Hills – easily the ugliest outbreak of violence I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. (No, I don’t watch European soccer.) And I’m horrified that it happened in Detroit. I can’t wait for the rest of the country to jump on the pile and throw the usual “Detroit is a hellhole full of hooligans” garbage.

You know what? Auburn Hills is 35 miles from Detroit. The fans involved in the fighting – the ones who were hurling beers at the players – were affluent, suburban white guys. This wasn’t some “urban” riot.

It started with Detroit’s Ben Wallace overreacting to a hard foul by Indiana’s Ron Artest, and shoving him in the neck. Apparently, there was a lot of rough play throughout the game, and it could be argued that in a game where the outcome was likely decided, a hard foul (with a little shove, seen on slow-motion replays) wasn’t necessary. So Wallace was sticking up for himself and playing tough guy. No idea what may have been said on the court, but Big Ben seems to have started the fight.

But Artest is hardly a choir boy. He has a healthy history of crazed, irrational behavior in his NBA career. (Just last week, his team suspended him because he asked to leave the team so he could promote a rap album.) The man has anger management problems. And after he got a beer thrown at him, Artest RAN INTO THE STANDS to go after the asshole who threw it. (TV reports say he likely punched the wrong guy, too.) That’s when things blew up.

It’s hard to blame Artest for wanting to attack the guy, but he’s a professional athlete. He cannot go after fans, no matter what they say or do. Let security escort the guy out of the building, press charges against him, etc. (Security was seemingly nowhere to be seen during this entire brawl, by the way. But those poor guys were probably lost in the melee.) There will be fines, suspensions, arrests, and most definitely lawsuits coming from all of this. It’s a total mess and a huge embarrassment.

Basketball games used to have cages around them, you know…

Sunday
Feb092014

Joe Dumars is the next guy Pistons should fire

Joe Dumars is one of my all-time favorite professional athletes. If I were to make a top five list, Joe D would be on it. Hell, he might be in the top three. But that was as a player.

As an executive, as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons, Dumars has done a terrible job — especially during the past 10 years — and needs to be fired. I hardly think that's a controversial stance. I would love to hear from someone who would argue that Dumars should keep his job at this point.

On Sunday, the Pistons fired head coach Maurice Cheeks after 50 games into his first season with the team. Cheeks didn't even make it to the NBA's All-Star break, which is next weekend. The Pistons originally signed him to a two-year contract. Considering Dumars' history with hiring and firing coaches, two years is probably as long as Cheeks was going to keep his job. 

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Many criticisms could be leveled at Dumars (and Bill Simmons listed several bad moves the Pistons GM has made over the past 10 years on Sunday's NBA Countdown) for his poor job performance. But his hiring and firing of coaches has to be near the top of that list.

As ESPN's Jeff Goodman points out, Dumars has gone through eight coaches since 2000. Eight coaches in 14 years. The past three he hired — John Kuester, Michael Curry and Lawrence Frank — didn't last more than two seasons. Curry was fired after one year. Dumars has topped that with Cheeks, not even sticking with him until this season ended. 

According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski (who broke the story of Cheeks' firing) and Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, Pistons owner Tom Gores was the one who made the call on dismissing Cheeks.

Gores made it clear that he expected the team to make the playoffs. Right now, Detroit's 21-29 record has them on the fringes of playoff qualification. The Pistons will probably battle the Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks for the Eastern Conference's eighth playoff spot for the rest of the season. Apparently, Gores felt a coaching change — even to obscure assistant John Loyer — might give the team a push toward that goal.

But the owner reportedly fired Cheeks without anyone in mind to take over the job. Good planning there. Oh, and the Pistons players found out their coach was gone via Twitter. That gives Dumars further mess to try and clean up. Or maybe it's setting him up to deliberately fail. 

So does that mean Dumars should get a pass here? Reportedly, he favored giving the coach more time. But maybe that's just because Dumars knew how bad it would look to fire a first-year coach 50 games into the season. Who's to say Dumars wouldn't have fired Cheeks at the end of the season anyway? Especially if it meant saving his job? 

Cheeks appeared to lose the team anyway. His argument with Will Bynum on the bench during the Pistons' 112-98 loss to Orlando last Wednesday was the latest example of the coach not getting through to the players. Cheeks had also been publicly critical of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings during the season, which couldn't have gone over well in the locker room. 

However, Gores dumping Cheeks puts Dumars on notice. Maybe the owner and GM mutually made the decision to hire Cheeks in the first place, but the coach's failure ultimately falls on Dumars. His job is to run the basketball operations, and Gores obviously doesn't feel that's being done very well. The next move is obvious. Who else is there to be fired? Dumars put this team of mismatched parts together. 

Among those who follow the NBA and Pistons regularly, the prevailing opinion is that Dumars overpaid when he signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million contract. Smith could score some points, but needed a bunch of shots to get there. He's a terrible three-point shooter, yet insists on continuing to jack up long-range, low-percentage shots. And he doesn't fit well with Detroit's young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. 

Dumars will probably try to trade Smith, attempting to fix the mess he created. Trading a high-priced free agent during his first season with the team looks almost as bad as firing a head coach after 50 games. Will another team take Dumars' mistake off his hands? 

Frankly, I question whether or not Dumars should be allowed to do anything with the Pistons' roster for the rest of the season. Obviously, his mandate is to make the team better and qualify for the playoffs. But what if Dumars actually makes the team worse in the process? For instance, what if he trades Monroe, hoping to get something in return in case the Pistons can't re-sign him? If Dumars is a lame-duck GM, how can he be allowed to make such a decision? 

He most certainly shouldn't be allowed to hire another coach. Besides, what coach would want to work for Dumars and Gores, knowing how quickly they fire coaches? Someone will be willing to take the job because there are only 30 head coach openings in the NBA. But that doesn't mean the right guy will make himself available. Dumars hasn't shown he knows who the right guy is since firing Larry Brown. (OK, maybe since firing Flip Saunders.) 

These are just the latest in a dumpster full of mistakes by Dumars. Drafting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over University of Michigan star Trey Burke (followed by signing another shoot-first point guard like Jennings to a big free-agent deal) hasn't worked out. While we're at it, let's go back to 2003, when Dumars selected Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.

He traded Chauncey Billups, the leader of the Pistons' championship run through the 2000s, for a past-his-prime Allen Iverson, in a failed attempt to shake up a complacent team. He inked Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to ridiculous contracts, just because the Pistons had salary cap room and money to spare, adding two players who did nothing to make the team better.

Dumars certainly was entitled to some benefit of the doubt and respect for his playing career with the Pistons and for the deft touch he showed especially in signing free agents in building the 2003-04 NBA champions and keeping that team in contention for several seasons. But eventually, Dumars began to make moves out of desperation, rather than rational evaluation.

I'd argue that the beginning of the end was signing Nazr Mohammed in 2006 to replace Ben Wallace. Mohammed wasn't that good, but the Pistons signed him because they had the salary cap room and needed a center. That's the mentality Dumars has applied to almost every decision he's made since then. 

How many more mistakes can Dumars be allowed to make? As much as it still pains me to say so because of how much I loved him as a player (and as a GM early in his career), Dumars should be the next one to be fired.

Tuesday
Nov052013

What? A Pistons blog? 

I promise I will post some original content here this week, but for now, I'm linking to yet something else written elsewhere and a new blogging venture that I hope becomes a lot of fun. 

My friend Brian DeCaussin and I are both intrigued by this year's Detroit Pistons, with exciting scorers like Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings added to the team. They have a new coach in Maurice Cheeks. And Chauncey Billups, the leader of the last great Pistons club, is back.

I knew I wanted to follow the Pistons more closely this season after losing interest over the past few years. So when Brian told me he was thinking of starting a Pistons blog, I told him I wanted to contribute. We'll be writing about the team at MoBetterPistons

We don't know what the blog will be. As with most any blog, it will be a work in progress until we figure out what works for us. It's not going to be nightly recaps because neither of us is interested in that. Of course, we'll try to analyze the team as best we can. I'm sure I won't be able to resist indulging in some nostalgia along the way. 

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The NBA is the sport that really formed me as a sports fan. That also made me a Pistons fan. I lived and died with the "Bad Boys" championship teams. My favorite sports moment is the Pistons beating the Celtics in Game 6 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. That meant more to me than winning a NBA championship the following year. 

When the Pistons again played for a title in 2004, I was a student at Iowa. There was a power outage in my apartment complex before Game 5 of the NBA Finals and I watched the first half at the bar of an Old Chicago pizza. I went back to my place at halftime and fortunately, power had been restored so I could hoot, yell and celebrate without worrying about making a scene. 

Yet those Pistons eventually became a team I just didn't like and my interest in the NBA soon followed.

What's bringing me back six years later? As I said, this edition of the Pistons has piqued my curiosity. I also wanted to watch a different sport besides baseball. Football wasn't really doing it for me. But what really stoked my interest was Golden State's Stephen Curry lighting up the Knicks last February for 54 points. I peeked in on the game because both teams were contenders and saw the sort of performance that pulled me in as a fan so many years ago. 

As far as blogging goes, I'd like to do some writing on something besides baseball. Not only do I think it will help keep me sharp during the offseason, but to be frank about it, showing I can write about different sports isn't a bad thing for me, either. 

So here we go. I spent $130 on NBA League Pass, despite the warnings of several online friends about the quality of the product. I just hope the Pistons — and blogging about them — turn out to be worthwhile. 

Monday
Apr292013

Saluting Jason Collins for being the first, and surely not the last

By now, you've probably heard that NBA player Jason Collins became the first athlete in one of the four major pro sports to come out as a gay man. The full story is in this week's Sports Illustrated as the cover story, but the article is available online now. 

This probably won't surprise anyone who knows me, but I applaud Collins for being the first to put himself out there. Someone had to be the first man to take a chance in the macho world of sports, risking alienation and persecution. 

(Collins also made sure to mention that he was black, which I thought was a bit curious. Amanda Rykoff pointed out to me on Facebook that there's even more of a stigma regarding being gay in black culture. This column by Rob Smith at Salon explains how meaningful that is.) 

While I hesitate to use the word "hero" in such cases, this is certainly a courageous stand. Is that overstating the case? Perhaps a little bit, given that Collins has received support from former and current NBA players on Twitter since this went public.

But the tendency is to assume that what's seen on Twitter is a reflection of the culture at large. The Twitterverse is but a small slice of our society and there are still major portions of this country's population that just won't accept a gay man.

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Though I should've known better, I was reminded of this a year ago when an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina passed decisively. I knew that I lived in a progressive outpost surrounded by Southern conservative culture, so my view was skewed. I wasn't surprised that the amendment passed, but felt naive that I believed a different result was possible. 

My mother asked me why this was such a big deal, and I wanted to give her a hug because I know how far she's come on these sorts of issues.

But I think most of us — especially those who follow sports — understand how narrow-minded the climate can be in locker rooms, with men showering and dressing alongside one another. 

Maybe this would be perceived as an even bigger story had it been a superstar player who came out as gay, rather than a role player nearing the end of his career.

(Collins is a free agent, and it will be intriguing to see if this affects his ability to get a new contract or if he's even used as a publicity stunt.)

That's always been a secret hope, I suppose. If a star says he's gay, how many would really voice opposition or fear as long as he performs on the field? The same standard should hold true for Collins, of course. 

There is a development to this that troubles me, however. It's not that someone would voice opposing views — especially if they're blanketed in ignorance. That's to be expected. As I said above, this is a polarizing issue. 

But it does bother me when someone expresses a view against homosexuality and is immediately thrashed as an "idiot" or "moron." Those sorts of insults are being thrown at ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard, who said on the air that he believed homosexuality was a sin.

Here are Broussard's full remarks, via ThinkProgress:

Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.

Yes, I utterly and completely disagree with those comments. But Broussard is entitled to his opinions and views, regardless of how repugnant and divisive some of us believe them to be.

Should he have been allowed to say those things on ESPN when he's a reporter covering the NBA and just expressed a clear bias? That's something worth discussing at another time. (Kate Aurthur has a good piece at BuzzFeed on that subject.) 

What immediately struck me about Broussard's remarks is how closely they resembled the beliefs of someone in my family with whom I had a debate about homosexuality and gay marriage a couple of years ago. (To me, it still feels like last week.) 

When I heard this person say "it's a sin," I just knew we wouldn't be getting anywhere. Looking at the world that way is just so different from how I view it that I knew there wouldn't be any middle ground between us. To this day, that makes me sad, disappointed and outraged. 

In his eyes, it wasn't that he disagreed with or was repulsed by that lifestyle. (Although remarks he's made in the past lead me to believe that.) It's that the Bible told him it was a sin. To me, that sounds cowardly, like hiding behind something he didn't have the guts to express himself. Nonetheless, it is something he believes.

Do I want to call him ignorant and a homophobe for feeling that way? Sure. But is that any better than him saying someone made him uncomfortable for "crossing his legs like a woman," that "it seemed kinda gay"? Maybe it is, but I'd like to think I'm more enlightened. 

Yet that's the sort of mindset Collins faces and will continue to face, along with so many other gay people in this country.

That's why coming out on a public stage was so brave of him. He'll be called a sinner, along with insults far worse, far more degrading and infuriating. However, he's willing to take that abuse because it's that important to him. Because he wants to pave the way for others to walk through the door he opened. 

I was surprised to see Collins as the lead story on ABC World News Tonight. But that shows how big a deal this really is. Eventually, of course, it won't be a big deal and we'll wonder what all the hubbub was about.

Not now, however. This matters. And Collins deserves major praise for making it so. 

Monday
Mar112013

Detroit Pistons' Brandon Knight: Highlight roadkill 

Living in North Carolina, I don't get to see much Detroit Pistons basketball anymore. (And I'm not so much of a fan that I'll pay for NBA TV. (Actually, I'm not sure if Charter even carries it.)

But every time I hear about Pistons point guard Brandon Knight, the poor guy seems to be on the wrong end of a highlight. Such as getting mowed over by the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan for a monster dunk Sunday night. Twitter exploded with delight over Knight becoming roadkill for Jordan.

That immediately brought to mind Knight also being highlight fodder for the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving during All-Star weekend. Knight couldn't keep his balance against Irving's dazzling crossover dribble.

I barely watch the NBA these days — though I'm slowly getting back into pro basketball after a long period of disinterest — and I knew about these two plays. 

Knight seems to be having a decent season for the Pistons, averaging 14 points and four assists per game. But the poor guy is being more remembered thus far for being victimized by someone else's spectacular play.

For his sake — and the Pistons' — that hopefully changes soon. 

UPDATE: For all the laughing and pointing at Knight being laid out like a possum on a country road, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski brings up a good point.

At least Knight was trying to play some defense by standing between Jordan and the basket, rather than just get out of the way and concede the dunk. Maybe we should be celebrating that, instead of ridiculing him.